India

The Spirit of India with Michele Labelle

A Yoga & Spirituality Tour of South India February 13 - 28, 2010
Trip Extension Varkala Resort: Optional Ayurveda Programs February 28 - March 4, 2010

Join Michele Labelle on a spiritually captivating yoga journey. With its vibrant colours, intoxicating scents, exquisite cuisine, and animated culture, South India welcomes you.

Travel through a kaleidoscope of settings, from bustling cities to charming colonial towns, tranquil gardens to lush rainforests, wildlife sanctuaries to glorious sandy beaches. Through our practice of Hatha Yoga, which is designed to open the seven major energy centres or chakras, we will purify our bodies to feel rejuvenated and reborn. We will also explore the many sacred temples of South India to understand how the people connect to and worship the divine. Journey with us on this trip of a lifetime and be surprised and amazed by this magical and mysterious land. READ MORE

Tour Leader Michele Labelle

Michele Labelle has enjoyed teaching Hatha, Restorative, and Kundalini yoga since 2003. She has facilitated local and global yoga retreats and loves to share her passion for India  and Tahiti with her fellow travellers.

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The Sacred Earth Journeys tour of South India far exceeded my expectations. I was inspired by the history of India, the devotion of its people to their spirituality and the depth of love found in their eyes. Nadira Ramtahal, Corona, NY

TESTIMONIALS

Tour Description

Join Michele Labelle on a spiritually captivating yoga journey of South India. With its vibrant colours, intoxicating scents, and animated culture, India welcomes you. Travel through a kaleidoscope of settings, from bustling cities to charming colonial towns, tranquil gardens to lush rainforests, wildlife sanctuaries to glorious sandy beaches. The Spirit of India journey is a wonderful way of exploring India’s magic in a group setting with like minded travellers ready to explore new adventures.

Beach yoga in India
A beautiful yoga practice on the beach

The philosophy of the South is a celebration of the eternal universe through the honouring of the body, which is represented in their art forms, dance, and dress. Here, in the birthplace of yoga, we will unite our bodies, mind and spirits into one. Through our practice of Hatha Yoga, which is designed to open the seven major energy centers or chakras, we will purify our bodies to feel rejuvenated and reborn. As we meditate to sacred mantras, focusing our breath inwards, we will lift our spirits to new heights, feeling at one with all that surrounds us and with our true and authentic selves. We will also learn about the Indian philosophies of Patanjali's  8 limbs of yoga. Each yoga and meditation session will have a specific focus to allow our spirits to open to India’s magical diversity. 

Temple elephant in India
Temple Elephant

On our journey, we explore the many sacred temples of South India to understand how the people connect to and worship the divine. From towering structures that rise to the heavens, to vast and sprawling complexes, their devotion was expressed in breathtaking and moving forms. To escape from the effervescent scenes of the city, we immerse ourselves into paradisiacal environments. Deep in the sanctuaries of the wild, we encounter a medley of flora and fauna. Floating idly on a traditional houseboat, we experience the unique ecosystem of the backwaters and surrender to the serenity that embraces us.

To enjoy all the wonders of South India in a true and authentic way, we have carefully selected beautiful properties for accommodation. Experience the comfort and grace of colonial palaces converted into charming Heritage Hotels and the beauty and tranquility of resorts engrossed in natural surroundings.

Allepey boat cruise in India
Michele and our group enjoying a boat cruise

Journey with us on this trip of a lifetime and let yourself be surprised and amazed by this magical and mysterious land. Come explore and immerse yourself in the Indian experience that will cause your soul to be touched, moved and inspired.

Arrive in Chennai (formerly known as Madras), the 4th largest metropolitan area in India. Be met by our local representative, transfer to our resort in Mahabalipuram, and settle in for the evening. Mahabalipuram, a serene town nestled amidst the historical stone sculptures and medieval architecture that stands witness to the rich heritage, is known for its pristine sandy beaches, its bright sunshine and tranquil setting. Here, time stands still and the present meets the past. Nestled close to the legendary Shore Temple and the popular 7th century monoliths, you will find the Swamimalai Sterling Resort, the town’s only luxury boutique hotel. The property, which spreads over a tranquil beach, also includes a state of the art Ayurvedic Centre for those interested in experiencing the science and art of Ayureda.
(Overnight at the Indeco Swamimalai Sterling Resort in Mahabalipuram) 

Mahabalipuram in India

This morning enjoy an introduction to yoga with early morning yoga in the gardens followed by breakfast. We then visit Kanchipuram, one of Hinduism’s seven most sacred cities. In ancient times, the city was called Kachi and Kachiamapathi. This “Golden City of a Thousand Temples” dates back to the early Cholas in the 7th Century AD. Only approximately 70 temples of the original 1000 ancient temples are still intact, the most famous of them being the Kailasanatha Temple, a sandstone temple built in the early 7th Century designed to mirror Mount Kailash, the home of Lord Shiva. As this city is renowned for its silk weavings and hand-woven sarees, a visit to the nearby villages to see the craftsmen at work on their looms is a rewarding experience.

We return to the resort for lunch and then take a short trip to visit the magnificent site of the Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram, a nearby “open air museum” which occupies a stunning position on a rocky outcrop facing the Bay of Bengal. Built by the Pallava rulers in the 7th Century, the complex comprises of 14 cave temples, 9 monolithic Rathas, 3 stone temples, and 2 bas-relief sculptured rock panels. The beauty of this site is not only due to its captivating architecture, but the vast casuarinas trees and the silvery sandy beach.

This evening we gather for our official Welcome Dinner to share our intentions for the journey and become better acquainted with our fellow travellers.
(Overnight at the Sawmimalai Resort in Mahabalipuram)

Mahabalipuram Shore Temple in India

Arise early for morning yoga, followed by breakfast. We then begin our drive to Puducherry, formerly known as Pondicherry, considered the French Riviera of the east. This former French colony still retains much of its French history, evident in the city’s design and architecture. Near Puducherry, we encounter Auroville, “The City of Dawn”, an intriguing experimental town. Founded by “Mother” Mirra Richard in 1968, Auroville was created to be a “universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity”.

Later we visit the Aurobindo Ashram, the former home of Mother Mirra and Sri Aurobindo, whose teachings start from the ancient sages of India. He taught that behind the appearance of the universe, there is the reality of a being and consciousness, a self of all things, one and eternal. He believed that all beings are united in that one self and spirit, but divided by a certain separativity of consciousness, an ignorance of their true self and reality in the mind, life and body, and that it is possible, by a certain psychological discipline, to remove this veil of separative consciousness to become aware of the true self and the divinity within all of us.

We then check into our wonderful Heritage Hotel and relax for the evening.
(Overnight at Hotel de L’Orient in Puducherry)

Auroville in India

This morning we make our way to Swamimalai, stopping en route in the temple town of Chidambaram, one of Tamil Nadu’s most important towns and a major pilgrimage site for Shaivites. The word Chidambaram may be derived from the word chit, meaning “consciousness”, and ambaram, meaning “sky” (from aakasam or aakayam); thus, it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain as mentioned by all the Vedas and scriptures. Here we will visit the impressive Chidambaram Temple, a famous Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in his form of the Cosmic Dancer, Nataraja. This is one of the few temples where Shiva and Vishnu are enshrined under one roof. In Hindu literature, the temple is one of the holiest of the 5 Shiva Temples, each one representing one of the 5 elements, and represents the element of Akasa or Ether. The temple is an architectural wonder, one of the special features being the bejeweled image of Nataraja. It depicts the Lord Shiva as Bharatanatyam, “The Lord of the Dance”. The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolises the motion of the universe sustained by Lord Shiva. 

Upon arrival in Swamimalai, we check into our beautiful Anandham Swamimalai Resort, a 100 year old Heritage home set amidst a lush green coconut grove. The location is a perfect base for exploring the many temples nearby.

In the afternoon we visit Swamimalai Murugan Temple, 4th among the 6 paddai veedu, the Sacred Shrines dedicated to Lord Muruga. According to Hindu belief, Swamimalai is where Muruga, at a young age, preached to his own father, Lord Shiva. This is also the place where, according to legend, Lord Muruga proposed the meaning of “Om”, the Sacred Pranava Mantra, to his Father Lord Shiva, and thus, assumed the title Swaminath, “Lord of Lords”. As the legend goes, when Brahma, the Lord of All Creation, was proceeding to Kailasa, the ever-playful child, Lord Muruga, asked him for the meaning of the Pranava, “Om”. When Brahma admitted his ignorance, the Lord imprisoned him. With Brahma imprisoned, all creation came to a standstill and the devas prayed to Lord Shiva to have Brahma released. When Muruga insisted that the imprisonment was a just punishment for the ignorance of Brahma, Lord Shiva asked him whether he himself knew the meaning of the primordial Pranava, “Om”. Lord Muruga said that he knew the meaning of “Om” and could explain it, but only if Lord Shiva would accept him as guru and listen to the explanation as a devoted disciple. Lord Shiva agreed to this request and accepted the teachings of Lord Muruga and thus, the place became known as Swamimalai and the presiding deity as Swaminathan.

After dinner we will gather by the pool, enveloped by palms and the tranquil sounds of nature, to enjoy evening yoga and close with a meditation using the sacred mantra, “Om”.
(Overnight at Anandham Swamimalai Resort)

Chidambaram Temple in India

We awake early this morning for invigorating morning yoga in the courtyard, followed by breakfast. We then set off for a full day of sightseeing in Thanjavur (Tanjore), considered the “Granary of South India” due to its agricultural activities. It is one of the oldest cities in India and is an important centre of South Indian art and architecture. It is also home to most of the “Great Living Chola Temples”, UNESCO World Heritage monuments, the foremost among them being the Brihadeshwara Temple, a brilliant example of the major heights achieved by Cholas temple architecture. As we explore this temple and complex, which stands amidst fortified walls surrounded by a moat, we will appreciate this remarkable architectural feat. The temple itself is made of hard granite stones which were not available in the area and is an amazing example of Dravidian architecture. The temple is a tribute and reflection of the power of its patron Rajaraja Chola and remains one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture. It was built as the royal temple to display the emperor’s vision of his power and relationship to the universal order and was also the site of major royal ceremonies. The Vimana, or temple tower, is 216 ft high and is among the tallest of its kind in the world. The Kalash or Shikhara (bulbous structure on the top of the temple), is itself very large and heavy. At the entrance sits a big statue of Nandi, the “Sacred Bull”, carved out of a single rock and measuring about 16 ft long and 13 ft high. 

Near the temple, we visit the Thanjavur Palace of Nayaks, a huge palace constructed partly by the Nayak rulers and partly by the Maratha rulers. The entrance of the palace has a large quadrangular courtyard which leads to a pillared hall. The palace houses a library, which contains 40,0000 rare books and palm leaf inscriptions, an art gallery, which exhibits a large collection of bronze and granite Chola sculptures, and a museum, which is home to many items and relics belonging to past kings.

We freshen up for dinner upon our return to our resort and then enjoy a heart-opening meditation and sharing circle, enjoying the sights and sounds of nature that envelop us.
(Overnight at Anandham Swamimalai Resort)

Brihadeshwara Temple in India

We enjoy an energizing morning yoga session, followed by breakfast and then head off for a full day of sightseeing, visiting some of the many temples around Swamimalai and Kumbakonam. We begin with Gangaikondan Cholapuram, an architectural work of genius. The temple was built by Rajendra Chola, who was the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, in the early 11th Century, in an attempt to reproduce the “larger- than- life” achievement of his father. According to legends, King Rajendra Chola, during one of the his campaigns to the north, brought back water from the river Ganges in a golden pot and sanctified the reservoir Ponneri or Cholaganga. Thus, he was given the title of Gangaikondan, “the one who brought the Ganges”. The temple has complex carvings in the Vimanas and is an exhibition of intricate detailing. Some of the sculptures found here are as great as any others found in other Chola Temples, but the most striking and unique ones here are The Nataraja, Coronation of King Rajendra Chozhan by Shiva and Parvati, the Dancing Ganesha, and the most interesting, the Ardhanari, the man-woman manifestation of Lord Shiva, signifying the duality of divine energy.

Next, we visit the ancient town of Darasuram and the Airavatesvara Temple, a Hindu temple of Dravidian architecture, considered a “sculptor’s dream in stone”, and one of the oldest of the Chola temples. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, also built by Rajaraja Chola in the 12th Century, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is a storehouse of art and architecture and has some exquisite stone carvings. Although this temple is much smaller than the Brihadeshwara or the Gangaikondan Cholapuram Temples, it is more exquisite in detail due to the fact that it was said to have been built with nitya-vinoda, “perpetual entertainment”, in mind.

We end our day of sightseeing with a visit to the Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, the major temple of the Shaivites. This temple, also dedicated to Lord Shiva, covers an area of 30,181 sq ft with a length and breadth of 750 ft and 252 ft respectively. The temple comprises of 3 praharas and 3 gopurams in the eastern, northern and western directions. The complex is huge and showcases beautiful artwork and intricate, colourful carvings. According to legend, Shiva caused the Amritakalasam, “the pot holding divine nectar”, to rest here during the great deluge, and the shrine is said to have been built and consecrated by Bhrama himself. The most famous festival of Mahamagam is associated with this temple and attracts crowds from all over India. 

In the evening, we will wind down after dinner with another relaxing meditation circle before drifting off to peaceful slumber.
(Overnight at Anandham Swamimalai Resort)

Gangaikondan Cholapuram in India

Arise early for morning yoga, followed by breakfast and then we head to Madurai. We stop en route to visit Chettinad, known for its cultural heritage, architecture, and art. It is also known for its several temples and elaborate mansions. Houses in the city are built on rectangular, traversal plots that stretch across 2 streets. Their front doors open out to the first street while the back doors open out to the second. Looking in from the main threshold, the eye travels directly through, into a series of inner courtyards. The most famous Chettinad mansion is the Raja’s Palace at Kanadukathan which began construction in 1902 and took 10 years to complete. This elaborate home stretches over 40,000 sq ft, its rooms embellished with Burmese teak wood, Italian marble, and English steel. 

As Chettinad is also known for its fine cuisine and culinary delicacies, make sure to sample the fine fare. Later, we continue our drive to Madurai and settle in for the evening.
(Overnight at Fortune Pandiyan Hotel in Madurai)

Chettinad Palace in India

Today we enjoy a full day in Madurai, the oldest inhabited city in the Indian peninsula. One of South India’s great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the great Meenakshi Temple, a historic Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort, the goddess Parvati. According to legend, Shiva came down to earth as Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with all of the earth’s inhabitants gathering in Madurai. This marriage is still celebrated today in Madurai as a huge festival called Meenakshi Thirukalyanam, “the Divine Marriage of Meenakshi”. The temple, with it stunning architecture, is the heart and spirit of Madurai. At the core of the wall-enclosed complex, we find 2 sanctums for Sundarewarar and Meenakshi, surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. The 12 magnificent gopurams that tower above the surrounding countryside are striking with their intricate carvings and colourful paintings.

Later we visit the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, a 17th Century palace built by King Thirumalai Nayak. The palace was built with the aid of an Italian architect and is a classic fusion of Dravidian, Islamic, and European styling. In its day, the palace was considered one of the wonders of the south; it has now been declared a national monument.

In the evening, we will have the special privilege of witnessing the evocative prayer ceremony at the Meenaskhi Temple.
(Overnight at Fortune Pandiyan Hotel in Madurai)

Meenakshi Temple view in India

This morning, we drive to Periyar, also known as Thekkady, set high in the mountains of Kerala and renowned for its geography and wildlife. Upon arrival, we will check into our amazing Treetop Resort and then head off for a delightfully relaxing boat ride on Periyar Lake. The boat ride is a wonderful way to take in the sights and sounds surrounding Periyar Lake which lies in the heart of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. This National Park and Tiger Reserve is one of the most captivating wildlife parks in the world and is a perfect example of nature’s bounty. Sprawling over an area of 777 sq. km., the park is rich in biodiversity and is a repository of endangered flora and fauna. Here, visitors can witness playful pachyderms wandering freely, elephants frolicking in the waters of the lake, herds of deer prancing about, an abundance of bird species colouring the sky, along with many other animal species roaming through the park. The tiger population is also fortunately beginning to grow in this area due to the careful attention and care of concerned citizens, staff and through the support of visitors.

Tonight, encompassed by the animated sights and sounds of the rainforest, we enjoy a restorative evening yoga session.
(Overnight at the Treetop Resort in Periyar) 

Periyar Tiger Reserve in India

After breakfast, we begin our drive to Alleppey in Kerala, fondly known as the Venice of the East and famous for its Snake Boat Races. This charming town of picturesque canals, backwaters, beaches and lagoons, is the perfect place to enjoy a little R & R. As we drift peacefully along the backwaters on our beautiful and relaxing houseboat, we can enjoy the breathtaking scenery and a microcosm of flora and fauna, as well as local villages. 

In the evening, we gather for a tranquil meditation circle before being gently rocked to sleep on our houseboat.
(Overnight on Houseboat)

India, Alleppey

We enjoy breakfast on our houseboat and then make our way to the vibrant city of Kochi, also known as Cochin. A centre of trade, Kochi merchants began trading spices such as black pepper and cardamom with the Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. A striking scene here is the row of Cheena vala, Chinese fishing nets that line the mouth of the harbour which leads to the Arabian Sea in Fort Kochi.

Spend the afternoon at your leisure strolling through this seaside city flanked by Western Ghats. Visit the museum to learn about the history of this charming town, enjoy shopping at the local antique stores and spice markets, or just relax on the beach and watch the fishermen bring in their fresh catch of the day.

In the evening, we will gather together to witness the captivating Kathakali Dance Show before retiring for the evening at our Heritage Hotel, a 17th Century Dutch Palace beautifully restored and later converted into a small and intimate hotel.
(Overnight at Fort Heritage Hotel in Fort Kochi)

Kochi fishing at sunset in India

Begin with morning yoga and then enjoy the day at your leisure for independent activities. You may also want to take advantage of an optional excursion to Amma’s Ashram and, if she is present, meet with Mother Amma, fondly called the “hugging saint”, for darshan. The Sanskrit term darshan means “vision” and is used to describe a meeting with a holy person, especially a Self Realized master. Amma’s darshan is unique. As the embodiment of supreme motherhood, she welcomes every person who comes to her, listens to his or her problems, offers advice and guidance, and brings reassurance to a troubled heart. For the past 35 years Amma has dedicated her life to the uplifting of suffering humanity through the simplest of gestures, an embrace. In this intimate manner she has blessed and consoled more than 25 million people throughout the world. Amma’s sole mission is to love and serve one and all and her only wish is that her hands should always be on someone’s shoulder, consoling and caressing them and wiping their tears, even while breathing her last.
(Overnight at Fort Heritage Hotel in Fort Kochi)

 

Mother Amma in India

Enjoy morning yoga, followed by breakfast and then off for a full day of sightseeing. In the morning we enjoy a city tour of Kochi. We visit the Dutch Palace, originally built by the Portuguese and then later modified by the Dutch in the 17th Century, the Jewish Synagogue, magnificently decorated with Chinese tiles and Belgian Chandeliers, St. Francis Church, the oldest church built by Europeans in India, and the Santa Cruz Basilica, built by the Portuguese in 1505, destroyed by the British in 1795 and then later rebuilt in 1905. We end our tour in Fort Kochi, where we have some free time to wander through the town to admire the Dutch and Portuguese colonial architecture which dates back to the 16th century.

In the afternoon we drive to the Ernakulam railway station and board our train for Trivandrum. Upon arrival, we transfer to our beautiful beach resort in Varkala, a quaint fishing village in the southern district of Kerala, to wind down from our exciting journey. Varkala is considered a center of pilgrimage as well as a popular, yet more tranquil beach destination than neighbouring resort areas. It is the only region in southern Kerala where you can find cliffs adjacent to the Arabian Sea which creates a unique geological contrast to the otherwise surrounding flat landscape. The beaches in the area are stunning and the sea offers a refreshing respite from the Indian sun. 
(Overnight at Krishnatheeram Resort in Varkala)

Santa Cruz Basilica in India

Krishnatheeram Resort, which sits perched on a rocky cliff and hugs the silvery-black Thiruvambady Beach, can easily be considered a tropical paradise. The lush and tropical surroundings are strewn with coconut palms; their pebbled pathways leading to lookout points offering tremendous views of virgin beaches and endless sunsets. The restaurant, which looks out to the calm sea, offers healthy and holistic cuisine, and the Ayurvedic Centre offers rejuvenating, restorative and curative therapies. This wonderful resort will be our base for the next few days so release and relax and take full advantage of this stunning setting.

We begin the day with morning yoga and then enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure. Visit the well stocked library, shop at the resort’s eco-friendly shop or enjoy the Ayurvedic therapy programs offered at the centre. (NOTE: Therapy programs are NOT included in tour cost and will need to be booked in advance. Please refer to resort website for details.) In the evening, we gather for our meditation circle to lull us into restful sleep.
(Overnight at Krishnatheeram Resort in Varkala)

Thiruvambady Beach in India

Indulge in a rejuvenating morning yoga session to start another glorious day in paradise. Continue to enjoy the resort and all its amenities at your leisure. Stroll along the pebbled pathways for an acupressure treatment to restore sore and tired feet, explore the rocky shoreline and many coves, lay back and relax on the pristine beach, get the heart pumping and circulation flowing with an invigorating hike or bike ride, or head into town for some sightseeing. You will find 2 major attractions nearby, the 800 year old Janardana Swamy Temple and the Nature Cure Center. 

In the evening, we gather for our Farewell Dinner and our last meditation and sharing circle before retiring for the night.
(Overnight at Krishnatheeram Resort in Varkala)

Varkala in India

Today, bid your farewells to new found friends and remarkable South India and transfer to Trivandrum International airport for your return home OR extend your blissful stay in Varkala with our optional extension.

Varkala resort in India

Extension: Varkala Resort

Make full use of the resort amenities and take advantage of the wonderful Ayurvedic therapy programs while extending your stay in paradise. It will certainly be hard to leave on your last day, when you will be transferred to the Trivandrum International airport for your return home. The Extension includes 4 nights accommodation at Krishnatheeram Resort, breakfast, dinner and taxes.

Beautiful Varkala beach in India

The Spirit of India with Michele Labelle

February 13 - 28, 2010

Extension: Varkala Resort: Optional Ayurveda Programs

February 28 - March 4, 2010

Journey Includes:

  • 14 nights accommodation in 4 star Heritage Hotels and Resorts
  • 1 night on Luxury Houseboat
  • Arrival and Departure Transfers
  • Buffet Breakfast Daily, 2 Lunches and 8 Dinners
  • Sightseeing Tours and Excursions as per itinerary
  • Transportation in air-conditioned Private Coach and Train
  • Train Fare from Kochi to Trivandrum
  • English-speaking Tour Escort for entire trip
  • Entrance fees at all sites visited

 

Added Features:

  • Travel with Yoga Teacher Michele Labelle
  • Yoga and Meditation Classes with Michele Labelle
  • Prayer Ceremony at Meenakshi Temple
  • Boat Ride on Periyar Lake    
  • Kathakali Dance Show
  • Carefully selected Hotels and Resorts for authentic Indian experience

Tour Does Not Include:

  • International Airfare to Chennai and return from Trivandrum
  • Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote if you are Canadian)
  • Meals and drinks not included, as indicated in the itinerary
  • Cost to obtain valid passport and visa (Visa required for India)
  • Gratuities for guides, drivers, housekeeping, porters, waitstaff (see below)
  • Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls
  • Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final trip itinerary

Tour Price:

    • Double Room: USD $2,699 per person
  • Extension:

    • Double Room: USD $569 per person
    • Single Supplement: USD $279
Book this Journey
or call us on
1-877-874-7922 to help you make your reservation

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